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Discovering a Healthier You

Christian wellness professional Ruth McGinnis offers tips to help you feel better and more balanced physically and spiritually.

Does finding the motivation, energy, and extra minutes in a day to stay healthy seem impossible in this spread-yourself-too-thin world? You're probably thinking, How could I possibly have time to go to the gym between work, dinner, and my kids' soccer practice? And even if I had time, where would I start?

To help you get on the right track to better health, TCW talked to certified personal trainer and professional musician Ruth McGinnis, author of Living the Good Life (Revell) and Breathing Freely: Celebrating the Imperfect Life (Revell, release date October 2002). Ruth shared her expertise on how to take better care of yourself—and, surprise!—even urges you not to feel guilty if you don't have time to hit the gym. Check out her practical tips to rejuvenate your vitality and live more abundantly starting today.

If you haven't been taking care of yourself, how on earth do you find the motivation to begin?

First of all, nobody can motivate another person. You have to have that inner desire for a healthier life. But one motivation that works for almost everyone is fear—the fear of losing your range of motion, the fear of high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

When you're in your 40s, as I am, you start to realize maintenance is crucial. If you don't start maintaining the health you've already got, look out, because it doesn't get easier. Investing in your health isn't a luxury. Often I've found a woman with a husband and kids to care for feels guilty making that investment in herself. But when you start to lose muscle mass, gain weight, and feel tired all the time, you can't give something you don't have. Nobody benefits from a woman who doesn't take care of herself.

So how do you get started?

It's not easy, especially for women with small children and hectic lives. But the first big important step is getting enough sleep. Keeping regular sleeping hours is crucial, because the more disciplined things, such as eating right and exercising, are harder to implement if you're exhausted.

Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at about the same time every morning. That's a tried-and-true method for improving your sleep. The problem is, many of us get involved watching television, or suddenly have a spurt of energy to clean the kitchen at the end of the day. Those things distract the body from preparing itself for sleep. Look at the way you manage your hours, especially late in the day, and make wiser choices to help you get to bed earlier and to give yourself more time to wind down so you can sleep.

Any suggestions?

Turn off that television and computer! Artificial light from the computer stimulates your nervous system, so it makes it harder for you to fall asleep.

Some people take a bath or read; others turn down the phone ringer. Turn off bright lights and lower the noise level even for 30 minutes.

Our culture expects us to run ourselves ragged on an inhuman schedule. Lots of truly exhausted people still have trouble falling asleep because their mind's still going. Maybe they've worked hard mentally but haven't exerted their body all day, which makes it tough to get a good night's sleep.

Many of us sit all day at work. How can we exert ourselves more?

You have to look for opportunities to move around. For example, if you work on the second floor, use the stairs instead of the elevator. One of the greatest exercises for your backside is to go up stairs two at a time. By lifting your leg that much higher, you really engage your rear-end muscles. Over a period of time, the difference between taking the stairs versus taking the elevator has a significant impact on how much muscle you use and how many calories you burn. Building and maintaining muscle mass, especially later in life, is extremely important.

Also taking a 15-minute walk during your lunch hour or break time can have huge benefits. Even if you don't have time to change clothes and go to a gym, you still can accomplish something by just going out and walking. Grab a friend, and make it fun.

You're suggesting we change the way we think about an exercise regimen?

Exactly! A regimen doesn't mean you have to go to the gym or a weight-loss program to experience some benefits. Those things are great, but a regimen can be as simple as being aware of crucial areas—staying hydrated, getting sleep, being more active, eating right—and applying small steps daily to make a difference in your health.

Our generation grew up during the fitness revolution. We've been taught we need to have an ideal fitness regimen. But what's been lost in that message is that even if you don't have time to do an optimal fitness routine, there's still lots you can do everyday to make a huge difference in your health. Integrating little spurts of activity during the day, even if it's just taking the stairs, helps.

Many health clubs today have terrific deals for women to help with exercise and motivation. Several offer free childcare. Try visiting different gyms to find the one right for you, or partner with a friend to exercise together.

One of my former clients, who wanted to feel more fit, didn't want to join a health club. Instead, she signed up for ice-skating lessons. She got regular exercise and worked all the muscles in her body—plus she loved it! Discovering something you love to do, even if it doesn't sound like a typical fitness routine, is a great way to maintain your motivation.

What if your energy wanes in the late afternoon or evening?

I know what you mean. At the end of the day, lots of women say to themselves, I should go on a walk before I have to start dinner, or do push-ups and crunches, but they feel too fatigued to do it. That's where you have to take a leap of faith and believe that making the effort actually will make you feel less tired and will help you sleep at night.

There's a mental game you can play to help get motivated. Think to yourself, I'm just going to put on my walking shoes. Then, after you do that, tell yourself, I'm just going to walk for 5 minutes because I'm so tired. Usually those 5 minutes turn into a 20-minute walk. I can't count the number of times I've done that for myself.

Also, being dehydrated can cause you to have low energy. Most people don't drink the eight to ten glasses of water they need daily. Always keep water with you so you're hydrating your body.

Once a woman's motivated to live more healthily, where can she turn for encouragement to keep going?

Turn to Scripture for encouragement. Psalm 121:1-2 says, "I lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." That's my motto. I remind myself of all the things I can't control, and of who is in control.

Also, there are Scripture references that remind us God didn't design us to be couch potatoes. For example, Isaiah 40:31 says, "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." God designed us with an incredible body. He designed us to thrive, to dig into our human resources and use them. That verse in Isaiah reminds me that investing in my physical well-being can be a spiritual pursuit.

How so?

When I'm too busy, it's hard for me to balance my spiritual life, to connect with God. That's why quiet time for reflection is monumentally important.

A lot of times, I'll make a concentrated effort to pray for the concerns of my heart, then stop and listen to God. It's interesting to be present with God without an agenda. Being open to receive comfort or an answer or direction takes time.

But I'm just like everybody else—I wake up in the morning with expectations for the day. I know I'll have challenges in terms of time management, and disappointments in areas I can't control. I went through a process of relinquishing control before I felt as though I could surrender to God. I'm trying to make that leap from my will be done to thy will every day. Every morning I get up, surrender my schedule to God, and try to celebrate each day.

That's tough to do in our culture.

When I turn on the television and see people who've had the benefit of a make-up artist, hair stylist, special lighting, or cosmetic surgery, I realize our culture has lured us into believing people with outer beauty have it all together. What we really need are role models to share that there's beauty in the aging process. We read about the celebrity culture and the amount of time they devote to looking perfect. We need to be reminded how very empty that is. In the process, they're losing time they could be investing in other areas of life, such as relationships. And ultimately, we fight a losing battle with aging. Your body's going to change, and your skin's going to get bigger than your body. You're not supposed to look 20 when you're 50.

But we can make choices to stay healthy.

Yes. A healthy lifestyle is a lifetime pursuit. It's not something you just get one day and have forever. Put a healthy lifestyle together in a way that works for you, and don't feel bombarded by the messages from the fitness world, infomercial world, and talk-show world.

My message isn't a thrilling, cutting-edge breakthrough. It's not the kind of regimen that's going to make headline news because it's simply a reassuring message that the basics have worked and continue to work. That's why I love the ice-skating story so much. When I heard about that woman's workout routine, I thought, Good for you for finding something that's a passion for you.

We each have a better idea of what's good for us than we give ourselves credit for. And pop culture is largely to blame for that, because we have these insidious messages always coming at us to tell us we're not thin enough, not young enough, not rich enough, not organized enough. Martha Stewart makes me break out in hives. She should see my kitchen floor—it's always a mess!

But there's so much freedom in being able to see the beauty and uniqueness of your own life and body. Investing in your well-being is investing in your life. Putting on a pair of shoes and going for a walk is a wonderful way to make you feel healthier. But to be able to practice being who you are and celebrate your unique gifts—to be able to discern what matters and what doesn't, and to be committed to a meaningful life—that's what life's all about.

For more information about Ruth and healthier living, check out Ruth's website at www.ruthmcginnis.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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